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An early Seacoast tour guide
shows precious few changes

1886 ice storm Early Guides

Two popular books became the primary guides to local history in the 19th century. This was not one of them. Joseph Foster's "Portsmouth Guide Book" (1876), a small volume with text only, was the original bible for those studying old buildings. The actual author, Sarah Foster, thought it more discreet to pose as a male writer. It was supplanted in 1902 by C.S. Gurny's whopping 230-page illustrated manual "Portsmouth--Historic and Picturesque."

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"Attractive Bits" the Book

Between Foster and Gurney, this cute, oddly-titled little book appeared in the waning days of the 19th century. Wake up, it seems to be telling Victorian-age residents, and smell the Seacoast! While most publications of the era are rigidly Portsmouth-ocentric, this precursor to lobbies for a wider focus -- from Hampton Beach, NH to York, Maine. The thin hard cover volume contained 32 pages of text and 62 pages of black and white photographs from the well known Newell and Davis companies. Before this volume, photographs were most often purchased individually as studio cards or stereopticon cards.

The text rounds up all the usual local legends, borrowing heavily from the Nathaniel Adams history of the region and the published "Rambles" of popular journalist Charles Brewster. The guide is a mixture of fact and fantasy, telling the story of "ancient" Portsmouth in the Contact Era, admitting to the existence of a northern slave market, then tripping off to the romantic embroidery of poet Whittier's New Hampshire and Longfellow's "Lady Wentworth."

But the pictures tell the story best. Some of what they show is gone, most noticeably the battered unrestored torso of "Old Ironsides" which was then docked at the Navy Yard. Here Portsmouth's Market Square is unpaved and busy with horses and carriages. Celia Thaxter's home on Appledore Island was still standing, as was the Pocahontas Hotel on Gerrish Island. Mixed among the "attractive bits" are the remarkable unattractive photos of the Eldredge Brewery, the Portsmouth Show Company and four full pages of Frank Jones Brewery.

Most heartening is how little the region has changed in a century. We see familiar shots of Bald Head Cliff, Star Island, historic homes and churches, the harbor, the lighthouses, the surf, the rocks, monuments, trees, rivers and beaches. Wentworth-by-the-Sea, expanded to a sprawling hotel and cut back by developers, appears then, very much as it does today.

Early Photo Gallery:
Attractive Bits Along Shore
Click on thumbnails to see larger images.
See list below for more
Seacoast area Early Photos.

Also in our Early Photo Series:

  • 1886 Ice Storm
  • Attractive Bits Along the Shore
  • Gosport Harbor, 1860s
  • Hampton and Hampton Beach
  • Old Dover Scrapbook
  • "Old Ironsides"
  • "Old Town by the Sea"
  • Victorian Portsmouth

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    © 1998

    Image 1 Image 2 Image 3
    Image 4 Image 5 Image 6
    Image 7 Image 8 Image 9

    All photos from:
    Attractive Bits Along Shore 96 pp.
    No copyright, no publication date
    Published by H. Wilbur Hayes Portland. ME
    Copy of book courtesy of the Portsmouth Public Library

    © 1998

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